“Each one saw him in a different way”

Marc Chagall

Let me show you that neither the principalities nor the powers know God’s essence. Who is it, then, who says this? It is no longer Paul, nor Isaiah, nor Ezekiel. But it is another holy vessel and instrument. It is John, the Son of Thunder himself, the beloved of Christ, who leaned on the Lord’s breast and drank from there the divine waters. What, then did he say? “No one has ever seen God” [Jn 1:18]. …

Let us see what objection might be urged against what he said. Tell me, John, what do you mean when you say: “No one has ever seen God?” What shall we think about the prophets who say that they saw God? Isaiah said: “I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne.” And again, Daniel said, “I saw until the thrones were set, and the Ancient of days sat.” And Micah said: “I saw the God of Israel sitting on his throne.” And, again, another prophet said: “I saw the Lord standing on the altar, and he said to me: ‘ Strike the mercy seat.'” And I can gather together many similar passages to show you as witnesses of what I say.

How is it, then, that John says: “No one has ever seen God?” He says this so that you may know that he is speaking of a clear knowledge and a perfect comprehension of God. All the cases cited were instances of God’s condescension and accommodation. That no one of those prophets saw God’s essence in its pure state is clear from the fact that each one saw him in a different way. God is a simple being; he is not composed of parts; he is without form or figure. But all these prophets saw different forms and figures. God proved this very thing through the mouth of another prophet. And he persuaded those other prophets that they did not see his essence in its exact nature when he said: “I have multiplied visions, and by the ministries of the prophets I was represented.” What God was saying was: “I did not show my very essence but I came down in condescension and accommodated myself to the weakness of their eyes.” …

The evangelist, John, knew that knowledge of such matters is beyond human nature and that God is incomprehensible to the powers above. That is why he brought in to teach us this doctrine the one who is seated at the right hand of God and who has a perfect knowledge of these things.

St John Chrysostom

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1 Response to “Each one saw him in a different way”

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    St John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God 4.17-19, 24.

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